Gordon Swaby is the CEO and Founder of EduFocal Limited, an E-Learning web application for students at the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) and Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) levels. Featured on the BBC, he was a Speaker at President Obama’s Global Entrepreneurship Summit at Stanford University in 2016. He is a tech trailblazer, revolutionizing the approach to education in Jamaica.#PeakPerformers, Gordon shares about his gamification business on TheEntrepYou today! Click To Tweet
What crazy activities do you dream of trying someday?
I want to do sky diving and snowboarding off a mountain.
When and why did you start EduFocal?
I started in late 2011. We officially launched March 15, 2012. We just celebrated our 5th birthday. We borrow methods from video gaming and implemented it into the learning process. We use the level up system and the leader board. We offer over 15,000 test prep questions for students. They pay a subscription fee and then they start answering questions. Once they answer the question correctly, they are earning experience points and they’re leveling up and winning prizes at the same time and being ranked on the leader board. That’s fun for students, especially the younger ones. They find it interactive and captivating.
At the conceptualization, how did you know that this model would be effective?
To be honest I didn’t. We did no surveys before. It didn’t cross my mind at the time to do any testing. I kind of went out on a limb, built this application and then looked for feedback afterwards. And that’s a terrible idea, don’t do that!
Take us through the failures…
When we started out we anticipated that we would have gotten a lot of traction from the teachers as it was supposed to be teacher and student-centric. Our original plan was that teachers would come on, they would add their questions and their content. Based on the engagement of the content, they would be compensated. If you’re a teacher on the platform and students are engaging your content in a big way, that would determine how much you’re being paid at the end of the month. We saw that a lot of teachers weren’t trained to use computers or they weren’t interested. They were indifferent to the entire thing so we had to shift that model a little bit and focus more on it being student-centric. This was a big shift or a pivot into focusing on something else. We should have at least went out and spoken to the teachers first to get feedback to determine if this is something they would have been interested in.
Another one is that I hired too early and hired the wrong people. I wasted a lot of money ‘un-learning’. I think I was caught up in the hype to say that I have a team. I’m happy that I learnt those lessons early.
What are some of the elements that you look for in a team?
We look for people who are committed to change; to work on something that is not easy but is rewarding and fulfilling work. I prefer to work with younger people that are not as hardened in their ways. I look for people who are go-getters who can take initiative. I look for entrepreneurial people.
How did you get buy-in from the students?
Before we got buy-in from the students we had to get buy-in elsewhere. We needed teachers, so we changed the way we were engaging them. I worked on getting credibility in the market place. People saw the media as validation for what you’re doing; people take the media seriously and that give you credibility. The awards did that as well to validate – my first big award was the PSOJ’s 50 Under 50 Award a couple months after I started EduFocal and that set things in motion for me. That has been my strategy from day 1. We’ve been featured on BBC, the UK Guardian, Virgin, Richard Branson has mentioned me in articles he’s written, we’ve been featured in the Trinidad Guardian, Trinidad Express and so on helping to push EduFocal credibility.
What has accounted for your level of success?
Being focused, and having a plan has helped. Surrounding myself with the right people. A lot of people discount the value of good advice. Good advice has helped me in a big way. If I didn’t listen to people I would have made some really big mistakes and that probably would have been the end of EduFocal. I started the company having a Board of Directors. Corporate Governance has been a big thing for me since day 1.
You need to put things in place that will ensure sustainability in the medium and long term. Getting the right kind of support is important.
What is preventing you from being burnt out, staying alert and focused?
I have a great family, I try to balance my life well; I take breaks; I try to go at least 1 new place every month and there are some days I just rest. What I’m doing requires a lot of mental and physical work. It is important to find that balance. Sometimes I change up my routine a bit like talking to students. I learn a lot from having conversations with people.
We intend to control the pipeline. We are expanding to Africa. I just came back from Nigeria; developed some strong relations and partners. Airtel is looking to partner with us and that can have far reaching impact. We are still developing new features for EduFfocal such as the ability to use our platform without internet connection and the ability to compete with each other on the platform live. It’s like 2 students taking a test at the same time.
One piece of advice for those wanting the enter the field of entrepreneurship?
Set goals for yourself; set SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic & Time bound). Most of the things people speak about in regards to success is cliche but it is cliche for a reason because it’s the truth. It sounds so obvious and easy but it is not. To commit to being disciplined is hard, monotonous and boring. Dedicating yourself to something and a craft if extremely important – be focused and have good mentors.
- Put things in place that will ensure sustainability in the medium and long term.
- Don’t discount the value of good advice.
- Dedicating yourself to something and a craft is extremely important – be focused and have good mentors